EDAW 2016

If you saw me now, you probably wouldn’t believe I ever had a problem with food. But for me, every day and every meal can still be a battle.

I started to develop an Eating Disorder around the age of fourteen, although I had been unhappy with my weight for most of my childhood. It started with the small things, like skipping lunch at school or eating less fat. But soon it became all consuming. I was losing weight, and losing weight became something I was good at. I was good at hiding it, too. I was a brilliant liar.

During my final year at school, I became severely anorexic. I limited myself to one low calorie meal a day, exercised loads and weighed and recorded myself obsessively. I did really badly in my A Levels (in hindsight I can see that it was because I had stopped feeding my brain) and that pushed me to rock bottom. The feelings of inadequacy took hold. I felt like a failure and that fuelled my illness into being something I was successful at. I started to push the Anorexia further and as I did so, my family started to get concerned. Their daughter/sister/aunt was starving to death and they couldn’t do a thing to stop it.  I was taken to the GP against my will, who referred me to a psychiatrist, but by this point, the pathetically small meal plan she suggested was too much.

I kept starving myself, I kept lying, my weight plummeted and for an entire month I didn’t eat a thing. Eventually, I was hospitalised and received specialist treatment, but it took several years before I approached any sort of recovery.

What *is* recovery? For me, it was a small spark of a feeling, that maybe life doesn’t have to be all about food and weight, that grew the more I nurtured it. It’s learning to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. It’s about not punishing yourself anymore for the things you can’t change or control. Mostly though, it’s about a lust and love for life. You cannot have a life and an ED. Eventually, you have to choice which one you want more.

I have done some terrible things in the name of my Eating Disorder. I have stolen food and laxatives, I’ve imported illegal diet pills from the States, I have shouted and screamed and lied and deceived.

There is so much stigma and misconceptions surrounding Eating Disorders. The perception that they’re about how you look rather than how you feel. They’re not about that. They’re about control and anxiety. They’re about trying to succeed at something, even if that something is starving to death. They’re about the fears we all have, amplified.

We all need to start seeing Eating Disorders for what they are and what they do to our minds, rather than how they look and what they do to our bodies.

EDAW 2016

Being Borderline

The other night I did a live Twitter ‘thing’ as part of my reaction to BBC’s In The Mind season. I hoped to spread awareness of my own mental illness, Borderline Personality Disorder or BPD for short.

This was the culmination of the bitterness and anger I have felt over the last couple of months, in which I have been told twice, whilst in ‘crisis’, by two separate mental health professionals that Personality Disorders are not ‘serious mental illnesses’.

So, I took to Facebook and Twitter to vent about how serious ALL mental illnesses are and to try to help put an end to what I have called The Hierarchy of Mental Illness. So much stigma still surrounds Personality Disorders, it’s the huge elephant in the room of mental health. A lot of people simply do not understand.

So, BPD, what’s all that about? Basically it’s a set of nine symptoms, which occur in individuals to varying levels of severity, and in various combinations. To be diagnosed, you must suffer from five of the nine symptoms.

Let’s tackle the diagnostic criteria head on. (Remember, people are INDIVIDUALS and not EXAMPLES!)

1. You feel very worried about people abandoning you, yet you push people away. You find it very hard to trust people.

2. You have intense, unpredictable moods and emotions. Your mood can go from depression to hypomania and back again, usually very rapidly and without warning. Your self-esteem fluctuates accordingly. You can go from feeling invincible and amazing one minutes and completely worthless the next.

3. You don’t have a strong sense of who you are. You are a ‘social chameleon’. You adapt to fit into the situation you’re in. You may find that your goals and ambitions change frequently. Sometimes this results in severe depersonalisation. That’s when you feel like you don’t exist, or you’re in a movie, or you’re ‘spaced out’.

4. You find it very hard to make and keep stable relationships. Often because of past abuse. This can result in idolising someone one day and hating them the next. You may find your relationships with people are very intense and often end quickly.

5. You’re reckless and impulsive and do things that could potentially harm you. Such as excessive spending, binge eating or substance abuse. You take big risks and can get into dangerous situations.

6. You have frequent and severe suicidal ideation and/or you self harm. Often your self harm becomes worse over time because you need to inflict more damage to yourself in order to get the same sense of relief. One in ten people with BPD will successively commit suicide, many more attempt suicide.

7. You feel hollow and empty. Nothing fills you up. You feel intensely lonely.

8. You get very angry. Or, you don’t process your anger properly and ‘blow up’ over small things.

9. You suffer from paranoia, dissociation and psychotic episodes, including hallucinations such as hearing voices.

So, what causes BPD. There are a number of theories, both environmental and genetic, although very often BPD is linked to childhood trauma, such as neglect, emotional, physical and sexual abuse or losing someone close. The most important thing I can stress is that having a diagnosis of BPD DOES NOT mean that your personality is ‘bad’ or that you are a ‘bad person’. It’s an ILLNESS. An illness that completely destroys you life, your happiness and your ability to function normally. Some people think having BPD makes you manipulative. This is simply not true. You experience real and severe emotional pain, which effects how you behave. You’re desperate and hurting and you don’t have the skills to express this appropriately. Some people say Borderlines are abusive, although to that the above also applies and, contrarily, individuals with BPD are 99% of the time abuse SURVIVORS. It’s really inappropriate to call the abusive when they’re simply hurting and unable to deal or process it effectively.

So, can it be treated? Definitely. It can seem like a life sentence, and to some extent that’s true, but there are definitely treatments out there that can help manage the severity of your symptoms. I can only tell you what has helped me.

The first thing that has helped me is PILLS! Pills are great. I would recommend pills. First of all, antidepressants. Currently, I take 45mg of Mirtazapine and 50mg of Paroxetine. They help ease my depression, my anxiety and my co-morbid OCD. It took me a long time to find the right ADs. I tried pretty much EVERY AD at pretty much EVERY dosage before my brain settled down on this combination. Mood stabilisers are also very helpful. They help control the intense mood swings and impulsivity, currently I take 200mg of Lamictal and it works really well. Finally, anti psychotics can be helpful. I struggle with the psychotic symptoms of BPD much more than the other symptoms, so AP’s have been crucial to keeping me out of hospital. I tried a lot before settling on a depot injection of 75mg of Haldol once a fortnight. I’ve been on this for nearly a year and it has transformed my life. This combination works really well for me (although I still have struggles) and so yes, anyone who says meds don’t help with BPD is an idiot.

Secondly, therapy. THIS IS SO IMPORTANT. Because BPD is so often caused by painful events in the past & they need processing, and even if there is no trauma, you will need to work to change your thought patterns and regulate your emotions. The ‘go to’ therapy for BPD is called DBT. This is given in both a group and individual setting and works primarily in controlling emotions, mindfulness skills, interpersonal skills and distress tolerance. Personally, I never found it overly helpful but it works really well for a lot of people. For me, ‘talking’ (otherwise known as Psychodynamic) therapy is where the real benefit has been found. This involves ‘opening up’ about your experiences and finding ways of processing them in a way that allows you to grow. However, with any therapy, you have to make a big commitment and often you’re going to feel worse before you feel better. For me, the combination of the right medication and the right therapist have been life saving.

BPD ruined my life, for someone to say it’s not ‘serious’ is idiotic and invalidating. I have taken countless overdoses, self harmed thousands of times, often to the point of needing medical attention, I have hallucinated terrifying visions and voices and had episodes of depression so severe I’ve been unable to get out of bed and I’ve been admitted to psychiatric hospital many times. For someone to invalidate my experiences is downright WRONG. I have fucking SUFFERED, through the childhood abuse and rapes that lead to my illness, to the diagnosis and subsequent mistreatment of the mental health profession.

In writing this, I am hoping that people will be more aware of BapD, and that the stigma that still surrounds it can be shifted.

Being Borderline

Have you ever confused a dream with life?

First of all, I would like to thank everyone who has supported and been kind to me over the last couple of days. It really, truly means a lot to know that I have people behind me. So, thanks.

This is going to be a weird blog, because I don’t normally write when I’m like this and struggling to form coherent thoughts. But I’m going to give it a go.

I guess I should start by saying that I suffer from psychotic episodes. Since my last hospitalisation last February, I have been on antipsychotic depot injections once a fortnight. For about eight months it was brilliant, I improved so much, my auditory hallucinations (hearing voices) virtually stopped. Then, a couple of months ago, I had another episode. Fortunately, I’ve become really good at asking for help. I reach out much, much sooner than I did before because if I don’t, if I ignore it and let it escalate, I would probably be hospitalised again. So, I caught it early, got on a higher dose of my medication and that sorted me out again. Until now.

In the last couple of days, things have become more confused. I start to notice myself living more in my head, of not being able to look people in the eye. My concentration goes. My ability to focus on a task. Even simple things like watching television become extremely difficult.

The voices are repetitive, and I find it very hard to repeat what they say. I’m going to try;

‘The TV is sending you messages. You mustn’t watch it. It can control you.’

‘You need to burn yourself.’

‘Drink cleaning fluid, your insides are dirty.’

‘X is dead, or dying, and it’s your fault.’

‘You have a parasite growing in your brain.’

‘There are bugs under your skin. Cut them out.’

‘Everyone around you is an actor. You are not real. You don’t exist.’

Etc etc etc.

These voices and paranoid thoughts are really distressing. They cause me to feel suicidal. They isolate me. They make me unsure of what is real and what is not. Of what and who I can trust.

Now, I’m not stupid. I know that this episode has been triggered by starting to talk a bit about the abuse, but that realisation doesn’t mean much when everything is so chaotic and frightening and I’m consumed by relentless paranoia. Knowing what causes it is one thing, being able to stop or control it is quite another.

There is a very small window between knowing these thoughts are irrational and false, and 100% believing everything they’re telling you. In that small window of time is when I have to seek help. Because once you start fully believing, and acting on paranoid delusions, you really are in A Bad Place.

I’m trying to keep that window of time open for as long as possible. I contacted the Crisis Team and they’ve agreed to see me tomorrow. I don’t know what the course of action will be. That scares me. But if I don’t act now, then there really is only one place I’m going to end up, and I’m trying my hardest to avoid that.

Have you ever confused a dream with life?

Once the mouth opens, the words start to come.

Today, I had my assessment with the Rape Crisis Centre. Yesterday, my suicidal ideation was seriously awful. I genuinely felt that I would rather die then have to deal with this shit. I couldn’t see a way through it, but there is always a way through it and sometimes you just have to dig a little deeper to find your courage.

So, today, I met with a really lovely lady who immediately put me at ease. We talked about my general mental health quite a lot, and she really seemed to understand me when I said about the psychosis ‘protecting’ me from difficult feelings and memories. She said that can happen sometimes after trauma.

And then, the inevitable happened and we talked about what had brought me there. I told her everything. Not in great detail but still, it was hard enough just saying ‘I’ve been raped twice as a teenager/adult and was sexually abused at school’. The school stuff is something I’ve never told ANYONE about in ‘real life’, so that was really hard. I told her about the nightmares, flashbacks and anxiety that are hounding me at the moment.

She asked me what I wanted to get out of counselling, and I said I wanted to be more in control of things and she said that was something they could help with, which was reassuring, and we did a sort of ‘star chart’ about how I was coping with different things, so that when I start counselling, we can see if there’s any improvement. I really liked that. I like having something solid and tangible and practical to hold onto.

After all that, she put me on the waiting list to see a counsellor and I left feeling really hopeful and positive and hopeful and just Had A Good Feeling About It All.

I know I have a long wait ahead of me just to get a counsellor, and that talking to them is going to be super painful but I feel like I can face it. I have found such courage in myself over the last couple of weeks and, at times it runs out and I breakdown and want to die and just feeling FUCKING AWFUL, but I dig a little deeper and find the strength to keep going, somehow.

I’m so damn proud of myself. I can’t believe I got through it, how honest I was and how much I feel like things could change.

Once the mouth opens, the words start to come.

Courage doesn’t always roar.

Today, I rang the local Rape Crisis Centre. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I’m not good at making phone calls, I get paranoid about spies and bugs and all other sorts of things, and as this was obviously a ‘sensitive’ subject to be talking about on the phone, the paranoia was extremely high.

I’ve spent months, probably years, looking at their website, holding their number in my hand, weighing up to pros and cons, the fear of ‘speaking out’ about things you’ve kept hidden for so long, the fear of repercussions, of something ‘bad’ happening. You are told, by your attacker, by society, by the media, by your own internal voice that ‘you must never talk about it’ and for years you go around believing that.

I don’t know why it’s come to a head in the last few days, I’m not in a particularly bad place right now. I’m slowly getting back to ‘mostly okay’ after a recent psychotic episode (that’s another story for another day!) But I guess with that, with coming back to ‘reality’, I am made painfully aware of a lot of bad shit that the psychosis makes me forget. I don’t really want to go into what psychosis is like, mainly because when I’m psychotic, I have very little insight into it and I find it difficult to recall what it was like. Basically, though, it’s like being in another world, a world that’s terrifying but also a world where you are someone else, where the life you are living is not your life. You forget yourself. You lose yourself. But then, with the help of medication, you become more grounded in The Real World. For me, The Real World is full of painful memories and feelings, and I am forced to confront them again.

Also, a simpler answer to it all is that I guess it’s a new year, a new start, and I want to resolve my issues, I want to process my past in a way that will make me understand it better. I want to be heard. I want to be believed. I want to be able to say;

I was raped when I was seventeen by my ex-boyfriend. I was raped again aged twenty by the boyfriend of a close friend. For years I have blamed myself. I have felt like it didn’t even happen. I have thought I was making it up. When I did believe myself, when I could admit to myself that it happened and it was real, I felt like it was my fault. That I could have done something differently and prevented it. I was drunk. I was stoned. I didn’t lock the door. I wasn’t forceful enough. I didn’t scream or fight or kick back. Which leads to me believing It was my fault. I carry so much guilt. The guilt of it happening in the first case, and, on a really good day where I believe it and don’t blame myself so violently, I feel guilty for not reporting it. I feel guilty that these men may have assaulted others because I did nothing to stop them.

I want to be able to talk these feelings through with someone who will believe me, who will not judge me, who will help shift some of this enormous guilt. I want to know what options are available to me. I want to learn to trust. I don’t want to be terrified of sex and relationships. I want to feel better about myself. I want to improve my self-esteem. My self-confidence. My self-worth. I am ready to talk. I am ready to tackle the things I haven’t been able to in therapy, because I have never admitted the second rape to anyone, even to my old therapist who I did a lot of difficult work with.

This is MY CHOICE. For the first time in my life, I have chosen to do this. To speak out. That’s empowering. That makes me feel in control. Sometimes, on a good day, on a day where I’m less self-blaming and feeling less guilt, I’m angry, bitter and vengeful about what’s happened to me. I want revenge. I have no weapons, though, only my voice. Maybe my voice can be my greatest weapon of all.

I have an initial assessment next Tuesday. I am terrified but I’m going to go. I am going to be heard. I am going to fight back. I’m nearly thirty, I don’t want to enter a new decade of my life with this awful weight around my neck.

I can do this, right?

I can do this.

Courage doesn’t always roar.

So, 2015, what a beast of a year!

highlights;

+ Sherlocked
+ Doctor Who Festival
+ Tim Minchin hugs
+ Andrew Scott hugs
+ theatre trips
+ friends

Lowlights;

– being put back on the psych ward
– psychotic/depressive episodes
– having antipsychotics injected into my ass every other week (but + they seem to be working…)
– two bouts of pancreatitis resulting in two hospital stays and numerous A&E visits
– gallbladder surgery
– eye casualty drama that could potentially lead to more surgery
– fallout with friends
– being so far away from a certain someone
– fandom drama

I failed to complete most of my 2015 goals but I have had a little success. I finally, FINALLY quit smoking completely (including ecigs and NRT) in May so I’ve been smoke free for over six months. I’m so fucking happy! (And a bit proud of myself if that’s allowed!)

2016 goals;

– read more.

– write more.

– start and finish my first Open University module (super anxious about that!)

– (re) become vegetarian.

– get back into photography, maybe even join the local society if I get a shot of courage!

– become stable on my meds (although there’s not much *I* can do about that because, y’know, chemicals! I’d like to have fewer/less frequent changes.)

– continue therapy, be more honest in therapy, play some of the cards I’ve been holding close to my chest.

– take a ‘pilgrimage’ back to That Place Where That Bad Thing Happened, leave some flowers, sharpie something or just cry my heart out for ten minutes. (I have been able to go past it on the bus a couple of times this year, so y’know, PROGRESS!)

– spend more time with good people.

– waste less time on people who suck the oxygen right out of me.

– stay out of debt

Annnnnd that’s it!

Maybe I was just a girl, interrupted.

People talk about depression and, sometimes, bipolar and OCD and eating disorders and schizophrenia but hardly anyone talks about BPD. It’s the murkiest part of the murky waters of mental health. If you’re lucky, you’ll get people who think that personality disorders are on the spectrum of sociopaths and psychopaths. That we are heartless and, potentially, murderous. No-one on the street has an understanding of BPD. Some professionals don’t even have an understanding of it. It has a kind of shame attached to it, a stigma that isn’t tackled as furiously as the stigma of other mental illnesses. It is marginalised. It is in the background. Sufferers are treated badly both by society and medical professionals. They are called manipulative and abusive, attention seeking and violent. This is not the truth. Would you like to know the truth?

I have BPD. I was diagnosed in 2008. I have suffered wild mood swings. I have reached dizzying highs, when I can do anything, when I am invinsible, when the air is alive with electricity. On the other hand, I have reached they very bottom of the pit of depression, when I feel so sad I can’t move, when I’ve spent hours sitting by rivers, begging a God I don’t even believe in, to give me the courage to drown myself.

I have self-harmed to the extent of needing fifty plus stitches in one go. I have gone through periods where I’ve spent literally weeks at a time going to emergency rooms. I have drank bleach and cleaning chemicals to ‘cleanse’ my insides. I have overdosed more times than I care to remember. I have been reckless and impulsive, not knowing what I want but knowing I want it NOW. I have drank to excess and snorted cocaine with a stranger I met at the train station.

The reasons for it? I guess I should mention those. I don’t even know all of them. My memory is poor but I remember some things. I have suffered multiple sexual assaults. I have tried to cut my breasts off, I have had flashbacks and nightmares so bad that I have dissociated for days at a time, to the point of walking in front of a bus.

I have been psychotic, hearing voices, seeing terrible things, feeling bugs beneath my skin and having thoughts planted inside my head. I have been too scared to watch the television for fear that it can communicate with me.

I am terrified of losing people yet I push them away. I become irrational and delusional. Desperate. I have lost friends because of my illness. Because of my inability to stop being self-destructive.

I have been hospitalised more times than I can remember, sometimes under the threat of being sectioned. All in all, I have spent months of my life on psychiatric wards, I have been injected with antipsychotics and been watched whilst going to the toilet and in the shower.

I have had countless therapists, psychiatrists, nurses, social workers. I spent nearly two years in DBT (the specialised treatment for BPD) and nearly lost what was left of my mind in the process.

And you know, this isn’t the end of it, because I have (more or less) recovered. I no longer use destructive behaviours. I am more in control of a lot of things. But that’s not the end of it, either. I will be living with this illness for my whole life. I take my pills, have my injections, go to therapy, but it’s just lurking in the background, ready to pounce.

When I was eighteen I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa, another ‘life sentence’, again I have recovered, again it is still lurking in the recesses of my mind.

I have dropped out of university several times. I have never had a job. The only relationships I’ve had have been abusive. I don’t know how to trust. I don’t know how to function. I don’t know how long I’ll be ‘well’. Relapse is always only a bad day away.

It makes me furious that a condition that has robbed me of so much, is so misunderstood, ignored, stigmatised. It deserves to be heard. We deserve to be loved and accepted, despite ourselves. I have never (intentionally) hurt another person. I have got bad and said shit that I’ve regretted but deep down, my intentions are always good.

It is possible to recover. It is possible to stop hurting yourself. You will be okay. I will be okay. Maybe not every day but some days, maybe even most days, I WILL BE OKAY.

So, that’s why I’ve said my bit l, so you can say to someone out there on the street ‘I know someone with BPD and they’re [insert something positive]’

Maybe I was just a girl, interrupted.